Getting Inside the Black Box: Technological Evolution and Economic Growth

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organized by Doyne Farmer and Eric Beinhocker (Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford), Jose Lobo (School of Sustainability, Arizona State University) and Deborah Strumsky (Department of Geography & Earth Science, University of North Carolina-Charlotte)


Technological change is widely recognized as the primary driver of economic growth. It underpins the development of civilization and is a major topic of concern for policy makers and businesses leaders, and has been documented by case studies, ethnographies, historical accounts, patents, and engineering databases. So far, however, the discussion remains largely anecdotal; there is very little quantitative theory that explains how technology evolves and what causes it to improve. While economists study technological change as a key component of economic growth, the treatment so far has been at an extreme aggregate level, in which technology enters merely as a single number call the "total factor productivity."

The workshop "Getting Inside the Black Box: Technological Evolution and Economic Growth" will bring together researchers from a variety of disciplines to make first steps toward constructing a theory of technological change. The title of the workshop is in honor of a phrase used by Nathan Rosenberg, who three decades ago pleaded with the economics profession to open the "black box" of technological change. Following his inspiration, this workshop will focus on understanding ecosystems of interacting technologies and the factors that cause them to evolve through time. During the month of August, in a series of small-sized working sessions, researchers will congregate at SFI to take stock of the current state of research, identify commonalities and differences in the processes that generate novelty in the technological, biological and social domains, and sketch a research agenda for future work. Participants will include economists, biologists, applied mathematicians, physicists, engineers, archaeologists and anthropologists.

This workshop is supported by the Santa Fe Institute, the Institute for New Economic Thinking and the U.S. Department of Energy.